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Behind Enemy Lines: Arizona Basketball

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NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Buffaloes are 3-1 in the Pac-12, which is good for fourth in the conference. This young squad now has to go down to Tucson to play the top-10 Arizona Wildcats. Arizona has been on a tear under new head coach Tommy Lloyd and their offense is as electric as their is in the country. We spoke with Brian Pederson of Arizona Desert Swarm to learn more.

1. Arizona has been somewhat of a surprise in the Pac-12 this year, skipping the re-build phase under new coach Tommy Lloyd and going straight to contenders. How different is Lloyd from Sean Miller?

These coaches are about as different as you can get, whether it be their system or their in-game coaching style. Lloyd doesn’t run plays, he lets the offense flow naturally and it’s produced big numbers, while Miller was very regimented in how he wanted things and it often resulted in future NBA players not looking as productive at the college level. During games, Miller was a firebrand who couldn’t stop moving and/or yelling out onto the court, while Lloyd casually strolls and rarely raises his voice.

2. Arizona is powered by the best offense in the country (for my money, at least). What makes the Wildcats so lethal?

Aside from having four different guys who can score 20 or more in a game, everyone on Arizona’s team looks to pass as often as it does shoot. The Wildcats average 21.8 assists per game, almost 3 more than any other Division I team, and more than 2/3 of their baskets are assisted. They’re also incredibly quick up and down the court, often creating transition scoring opportunities even on made baskets by the opponent. Throw in two big men who can run the floor and you’ve got all the pieces you need to score at will.

3. Arizona lost their starting point guard James Akinjo to Baylor without skipping a beat. Who has stepped up in his absence?

Kerr Kriisa has become the Wildcats’ floor leader, moving from off the ball to on it, and the results have been great. He is adept at finding the right guy in the offense but is also deadly when teams decide to go under a screen on him, and on defense he leads the team in charges drawn. He’s also pretty easily hateable with his headband, penchant for trash talking and fondness for getting the crowd riled up.

4. The Pac-12 currently has three teams in the top 10, and then a bunch of muck behind them. Would you take Arizona over everyone else in the Pac-12 right now, and where would you put CU in this ranking?

I think it’s still too early to say since UCLA and USC have had such long COVID pauses and aren’t yet their full selves. Arizona is so much better than a year ago, though, while the Bruins and Trojans are very much the same as 2020-21 in most respects. As for Colorado, if it can win enough games on the road like it did last year it should be in contention for the No. 4 spot, which is good in terms of getting a first-round Pac-12 Tournament bye.

5. What is your prediction for this game, and more importantly, where do you see CU ending up this season?

KenPom.com has Arizona winning 83-69, but Arizona has scored 84 or more in 8 of 13 games, so I’m expecting a much higher-scoring game, with the Wildcats taking it by double digits. Colorado seems good enough to compete for fourth place, even third if one of the Big Three stumbles, and another win over the UA in Boulder late next month is certainly doable.